During the 2006 season, Colts president Bill Polian talked about how he regretted losing strongside linebacker David Thornton to the Tennessee Titans through free agency. "I was heartbroken last year to lose David Thornton..." he said during an interview at Colts.com.
Well, with the Colts faced with losing two Pro Bowl caliber defensive players to unrestricted free agency this year, it appears the Polian is doing his best to avoid another heartbreak.
Within a matter of days, he placed the franchise player tag on one of them -- defensive end Dwight Freeney -- and he's now cleared enough cap space to at least enter the bidding to keep weakside linebacker Cato June with the team for the 2007 season.
ESPN.com's John Clayton is reporting that the Colts cleared $14.8 million in cap space by converting the roster bonuses of quarterback Peyton Manning and defensive end Robert Mathis to signing bonuses. That's a huge difference for a team that was projected to have only $200,000 to $600,000 in space earlier this month. And even with Dwight Freeney's $8.64 million cap hit due to the franchise tag designation, the Colts now have over $6 million in wiggle room.
That should be enough for the team to make a potential run at keeping June unless the bidding just becomes ludicrous -- and it could. This year's crop of free agents at the position is very thin, and there are teams out there with over $30 million of cap space available.
But if the Colts can get a long-term deal done with Dwight Freeney sooner rather than later, it certainly makes what looked like a hopeless situation a bit more feasible as the deal would lower his 2007 cap hit by spreading a big signing bonus over the length of his contract.
At worst, it appears the Colts have freed up enough room to put contract tenders on the table to at least two of their three unrestricted free agents. Offensive guards Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott along with cornerback Jason David were all starters for the Colts' championship team who will be available to accept offers from other teams. But if the Colts put at least a mid-tier tender on any or all of them, it's likely that they will return as other interested teams would have to compensate Indianapolis with a first-round draft pick.
Any way you look at it, the Colts took a big step forward today towards improving their chances of keeping more or their talented starting lineup intact for the 2007 season.
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